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Here are the five most intriguing college basketball storylines to watch:
This is the storyline of the season. Can they finish? Can they get to March? How much will COVID-19 impact play? The NCAA’s guideline of a 14-day pause for one positive test is already creating havoc, with several cancellations already and close to 30 teams not practicing due to positive tests days before the season is set to start. This will be a year of stops and starts, postponements and makeup dates. All that matters is surviving and advancing to March to play a tournament. It would likely take a near catastrophe — i.e., a player’s or coach’s death from the virus — for the NCAA to shut it down.
The G-League threat
College basketball’s usually loaded freshmen talent base took a hit this year, with the new G-League option snagging five top prospects. That showcase team is paying players six figures to train and play 10-12 exhibition games against other G-League teams. It’s not good for college basketball to lose talent. It won’t kill the game, but it certainly can’t help it.
The cancellation hangover
A number of programs were expecting a huge March last season — such as Seton Hall, Maryland and Dayton. Others, like Hofstra, were set to end lengthy NCAA Tournament droughts. Then the virus hit and everything was suddenly over. Now they return without the top players from their respective league title teams. How do these teams reset after losing such a big opportunity only months ago?
An NCAA Tournament unlike any other
After the first cancellation of the NCAA Tournament, the next chapter of the country’s greatest sporting event will be among the most anticipated of all time. But aside from your busted bracket, little about the tournament will look familiar. It remains unclear whether fans will be permitted at games — if so, expect a very small number of attendees — and the NCAA is already planning on holding the three-week event at a single site, rather than numerous cities spread across the country. A banner should be raised if the tournament finishes without significant COVID-related issues.
A new national champion?
The usual contenders (Villanova, Kentucky, Kansas, Duke) will be in the mix, but a first-time national champion has a strong chance of being crowned. Of the top 15 teams in the AP preseason poll, eight have never been the last team standing — including No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 2 Baylor and No. 5 Iowa.